Your Toner Is No Good Here: Region-Coding Ink Cartridges... For The Customers

from the all-ink-must-provide-proof-of-citizenship.-that-is-all. dept

Everyone likes buying stuff with a bunch of built-in restrictions, right? The things we "own" often remain the property of the manufacturers, at least in part. That's the trade-off we never asked for -- one pushed on us by everyone from movie studios to makers of high-end cat litter boxes and coffee brewers. DRM prevents backup copies. Proprietary packets brick functions until manufacturer-approved refills are in place.

Here's another bit of ridiculousness, via Techdirt reader techflaws. German news outlet c't Magazin is reporting that Xerox printers are going further than the normal restrictions we've become accustomed to. For years, printer companies have made sure users' printers won't run without every single slot being filled with approved cartridges. This includes such stupidity as disabling every function (including non-ink-related functions like scanning) in all-in-one printers until the printer is fed.

Xerox is going further. Not only do you need to refill the ink, but you have to fill it with local ink. techflaws paraphrases the paywalled, German-language article.

Xerox uses region coding on their toner catridges AND locks the printer to the first type used. So if you use an NA (North America) catridge you can't use the cheaper DMO (Eastern Europe) anymore. The printer's display does NOT show this, nor does the hotline know about it. When c't reached out to Xerox, the marketing drone claimed, this was done to serve the customer better, I kid you not.
Ah, the old "serve the customer better by limiting his/her options," as seen everywhere DRM/DRM-esque restrictions are applied.

But while c't Magazin has only recently stumbled across this issue of region-locked ink cartridges, it's by no means a new issue. Techflaws also points to a 2011 forum post by a user who ran into this problem with his Xerox printer.
I have seen hundreds of posts regarding the rejection of ink based on the location of purchase. I asume that Xerox does this to prevent the purchase of ink not manufactured by them. However - forcing a client to pay for a service for a snippet that needs to be installed in order to use the printer is ABSURD.

I changed from HP to Xerox because I thought it was a trusted name. I have instead learned that in the process of trying to protect against counterfeit - it is the paying customer that will get a non-functioning printer - with no help unless you are willing to pay for the printer to work as it should have to begin with.
So, it appears that if you attempt to forcefeed a Xerox printer not-from-around-here ink, it will potentially brick the device. At that point, you're forced to ask for a Xerox rep to drop by and unlock your purchased printer for you. Here's another confirmation of Xerox's "locals only" ink limitations.
As I live in the UK my ink blocks are for the European market. If I purchase from ebay, ink blocks for the USA or Asian market and insert them into my printer, the printer will stop with a contact your engineer code on the LCD. The printer is now unusable.
The rate charged to the person in the forum post quoted above was $596/hour. There's no missing decimal point there. Sure, it's only 10 minutes of work, but it's $60 being shelled out by a paying customer just so his printer will go back to printing. The only thing actually "broken" is Xerox's business model.

This person notes they switched from HP to Xerox because the latter was supposedly more trustworthy. Apparently not. Printers aren't a business. They're a racket. HP is no better than Xerox. It too will lock your printer to a certain region to ensure you receive only the best customer service purchase only most profitable ink cartridges.

If dates are anything to go by, HP likely pioneered the bullshit that is region-locked ink. This is from a 2005 Slashdot post. (The internal link to the Wall Street Journal is dead, so it has been omitted.)
Looks like the printer cartridge manufacturers will be borrowing techniques from Hollywood. HP introduced region coding for some of the newest printers sold in Europe. HP's US location and US dollar sliding lead to the situation, where cartridge prices in Europe are significantly higher than those in the States. In the Wall Street Journal article HP representative in Europe claims the company doesn't make any money off regional coding for cartridges, and that consumers will win once the US dollar rises over Euro.
Unbelievably, the rep says customers will "win" if an aspect HP can't control (currency exchange rates) happens to shift in the customers' favor. Why not just say consumers will be better off if those scratch tickets are winners? Or if the housing market rebounds and brings the residence housing the HP printer back into the black?

How much have consumers "won" since 2005?

In January of 2005 (when the post appeared at Slashdot), the exchange rate was 1.312 ($$ to Euros). A decade later, the exchange rate is 1.162. The dollar has gotten stronger, but this change is unlikely to have any appreciable effect on the price of "European" ink (wtf even is that, HP, Xerox, et al -- ink is ink). Thanks for the investment tip, HP PR.

Nearly every major printer manufacturer is in on the scam. HP saw an opportunity to increase incremental sales and staked out this territory in 2004. This brave new world of customer-screwing was followed by Lexmark, Canon, Epson and Xerox -- none of which saw anything wrong with illogically restricting ink cartridges to certain regions.

Region coding for DVDs and videogames makes a certain amount of sense, provided you're willing to make a small logic buy-in on windowed releases. But ink? It's not like Australians need to wait six weeks for HP to cut loose ink cartridges so as not to sabotage the US release. The only reason to do this is to tie paying customers into the most expensive ink and toner. This lock-in is cemented by many printers' refusal to recognize third-party replacement cartridges and/or allow refills of existing manufacturer cartridges.

The excuses made for this mercenary behavior would be hilarious if they weren't so transparently dismissive of customers. Every flowery ode to customers' best interests by PR flacks boils down to nothing more than, "Fuck 'em. It's not like they have a choice."

Filed Under: drm, ink cartridges, region coding, toner
Companies: canon, epson, hp, lexmark, xerox


Reader Comments

The First Word

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  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 21 Aug 2015 @ 1:00am

    Re:

    False. There may be genuine reasons why I wish to operate a device that comes from a place with a different electrical output. As a consumer, I should be able to make that choice.

    If confusion or accidental supply of the wrong part is your concern, there are ways to differential the components, from suing different names/part numbers of manufacturing them in such a way that a part from one region literally won't fit into a printer from a different region.

    But, leave the region locking bullshit out of it. That's only ever used for one real purpose - forcing people to buy a higher-priced local version rather than being able to shop around.

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